ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — Undernourishment affects more people in Africa than any other region and is undermining gains made in eradicating hunger on the continent in the last several years, according to a new joint study.
About 237 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from chronic undernutrition, according to the joint U.N. report, the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security, presented on Feb. 13 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at an event presided by the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo.
“The worsening trend in Africa is due to difficult global economic and worsening environmental conditions and, in many countries, conflict and climate variability and extremes, sometimes combined,” according to the report. “Economic growth slowed in 2016 due to weak commodity prices, in particular for oil and minerals. Food insecurity has worsened in countries affected by conflict, often exacerbated by drought or floods. For example, in Southern and Eastern Africa, many countries suffered from drought.”
Compared to 2015, there were an additional 34.5 million more undernourished people in Africa, the study showed.
At the regional level, the prevalence of stunting in children under five is falling, but only few countries are on track to meet the global nutrition target for stunting. The number of overweight children under five continues to rise and is particularly high in Northern and Southern Africa.
According to the regional report, progress toward meeting the World Health Organization’s global nutrition targets is slow at the continental level.
In many countries, notably in Eastern and Southern Africa, adverse climatic conditions due to El Niño led to a decline in agricultural production and soaring staple food prices. The economic and climatic situation has improved in 2017, but some countries continue to be affected by drought or poor rainfall.
Agriculture and the rural sector must play a key role in creating decent jobs for the 10 million to 12 million youths that join the labor market each year. Another growing threat to food security and nutrition in Africa, particularly to countries relying heavily on agriculture, is climate change. The effects of climate change, reduced precipitation and higher temperatures negatively influence the yields of staple food crops, the study said.
At the same time, there are significant opportunities for agriculture in developing intra-African trade, harnessing remittances for development, and investing in youth.
Many countries in Africa are at great risk to climate-related disasters and suffer from them frequently. Over the last 10 years, climate-related disasters affected on average 16 million people and caused annually $670 million in damages across the continent, the study said. Although not all of these shorter-term climate variations may be attributable to climate change, the evidence presented shows that more numerous and more frequent occurrences of climate extremes and a rise in climate variability are threatening to erode gains made toward ending hunger and malnutrition.
In terms of developing climate adaptation strategies and implementation, the report highlights the need for greater efforts in data collection, monitoring and implementation of climate smart agriculture practices. Continued efforts through partnerships, blending climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and long-term financing can bridge humanitarian and development approaches.